Having been in development since 2007, the hype surrounding The Last Guardian has been ineffable and I can’t remember the last time a game was so heavily anticipated for such a long stretch of time. However, after a number of delays and holdups, the game has finally been released seven years since it made its debut at E3 in 2009. So was the game worth the almost ten year wait or does it collapse under the pressure of its own hype?
In short, yes the game was worth the wait and after an initial play through has proven to be a unique and touching experience that I want to dive back into immediately.
The player takes on the role of an unnamed boy who awakens in a cave next to a giant half-bird half-mammal creature, Trico, who is injured and not too pleased to see you. After freeing the beast from his shackles and tending to his injuries, the two of you embark on a quest to escape the cave and presumably back to wherever you both came from. The story begins incredibly vague but as you progress small nuggets of backstory and context are revealed to spur the player towards their goal.
Similar to Team Ico’s critical hits, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian is a puzzle adventure that relies heavily on problem solving to get the player from one area to the next. The puzzles are similar in design and mostly involve the player pulling switches and levers to open up doors to move onto the next section.
What makes each puzzle feel unique is the inclusion of Trico. You see, as the player it is up to you to ensure both the small boy and mythical creature make it out of a certain area and herein lies the challenge. As the small boy you can squeeze through small gaps but by directing Trico and climbing on top of him you are able to leap chasms and reach areas that would otherwise be out of reach.
Whilst visually The Last Guardian feels like a modern masterpiece and thing of beauty, it is not without its drawbacks. The most prominent of these issues is the camera which can be described as clunky, non intuitive and often reminded me of playing a PS2/early PS3 game. When climbing the camera would often get in the way and obstruct where the player was meant to leap to next or at times when Trico enters the shot the camera made it impossible to see anything other than the gigantic beast.
Unfortunately for the game, this isn’t one of those problems that is easily resolved or seldom arises; it is present throughout the 10 hour gameplay and at times did make me feel like giving up. Thankfully I was encouraged to continue further to follow the pair’s relationship and it proved well worth the sometimes painful mechanics.
The relationship between Trico and the boy is the real star here. Rather than a straightforward narrative, the game is more about the connection between the boy and giant animal and watching how their relationship develops throughout. It becomes apparent that this is a tale of friendship. As the game begins, Trico is unsettled around you and as the player you’re not entirely sure if this massive beast is friendly or not.
However, as the game moves on you realise that both of these characters depend on each other. Trico is protective of the child and is essential for dealing with enemies. Whereas the boy is able to use his intelligence to free the animal from traps and calm him when he is angry or afraid. The more the two characters work together the stronger the bond becomes between them.
It is perhaps the quieter moments of the game that reflect the true nature of the pair’s unlikely friendship. After confronting a group of enemies you’ll need to climb Trico’s back to calm him down or after scaling heights and distances Trico will often lie down and in his stubbornness refuse to move until you have fed him.
It might sound tedious but this stubbornness really does add to Trico’s personality and the AI used to bring him to life feels very realistic. For example when the Griffin-like animal refuses to listen to your commands and instead explore at his own leisure, you’re reminded that you are dealing with a wild animal and not a household pet. This level of freedom and spontaneity from Trico makes him one of the best and most endearing gaming companions in recent memory.
The Last Guardian is a beautiful but flawed game. The gameplay mechanics and camera do impose a significant drawback for the overall experience and I can imagine many finding this too much of a snag to overcome.
However, the real gem is the bond between the two characters and the AI used to realise Trico to make him one of the best companions in any videogame. As the story progresses the relationship between the pair feels really special from the moment you free Trico from his shackles all the way to the emotional finale.
Nine years in the making, The Last Guardian is an incredibly emotive but technically flawed experience that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.